Most fish stories are about the “big one that got away,” but the story of Leroy Brown, maybe the most famous badass largemouth bass in the world, begins with getting caught.
In 1973, Tom Mann—fishing legend and founder of Mann’s Bait Company—hooked a 1-pound bass with a strawberry Jelly Worm (Mann’s own invention) in Lake Eufaula, Alabama. As he lifted the fish from the water, something he’d done thousands of times, Mann had a feeling that this one was different: that this bass had personality, and that he’d known him all his life.
Mann took the young fish home, put him in a pool with dozens of giant largemouths, and named him “Leroy Brown” after the Jim Croce song released a year earlier. Leroy had an aggressiveness that forced bigger fish to avoid him, and soon he was moved to a 38,000-gallon aquarium inside Tom Mann’s Fish World. He never again bit a lure with a hook, but instead swatted them with his tail whenever they were lowered into the tank for testing.
Over the years, Mann collected clippings of stories about Leroy Brown, starting with the Atlanta Journal and Southern Living. Soon stories about the tough fish were showing up in newspapers as far away as Germany, Zimbabwe, and Australia.
When Leroy Brown died on August 20, 1980, Mann decided to have a funeral for the beloved bass. The governor of Alabama declared a day of mourning, and telegrams came from country music stars Hank Williams Jr, Porter Wagoner, and others. Hundreds attended the memorial service to walk past the velvet-lined Plano tacklebox coffin to place a Jelly Worm inside, and the Eufaula High School band performed (what else?) “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”
After the service, Leroy Brown’s casket was stolen from the freezer where it was being stored (the ground was too wet to do the burial at the time), and Mann offered a $10,000 reward to get it back. They never found the thief, but his body was found several weeks later after a baggage handler at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, airport found a box with a nasty smell and notified authorities.
Leroy’s marble tombstone and memorial statue (ordered from Germany at a cost of $4,000) now has a permanent home in downtown Eufaula. It is engraved with the tribute: “Most bass are just fish but Leroy Brown was something special.”
Know Before You Go
The memorial has been in several locations over the years, but in 2016 it was moved to the median of the 100 block of East Broad Street in downtown Eufala in southeast Alabama.